At the bottom end of a six-hour meeting Monday, Public Services Commission members approved a 17.215-cent electric levelized energy adjustment clause rate, an increase of about 2.3-cents per kilowatt-hour, which goes into effect July 1 and runs through Dec. 31.
The V.I. Water and Power Authority’s initial petition was for 17.522-cents, which would have been a 2.58-cent increase over the current rate of 14.94-cents. A back-and-forth between the authority and Georgetown Consulting Group, the commission’s advisor on WAPA matters, revealed a difference of opinion over the fuel rates at the time the petition was filed, with Georgetown saying it was higher than it is now. WAPA officials said that while they don’t object to the electric LEAC being based on lower fuel prices, the slightly higher rate was used since the authority is not able to factor its deferred fuel balance costs into the request until it provides the PSC with audited financials.
While PSC members approved Georgetown’s recommendation for an increase, they objected to having to raise the rates on the heels of continued and prolonged power outages. Thursday’s outage on St. Thomas-St. John lasted as long as 12 hours on some of the feeders.
“There’s nothing wrong on the LEAC side, understanding the LEAC is pretty easy. They use the fuel, it’s a separate cost, people should pay for that. It is the other side of the ledger. It is the bad decisions that WAPA has made over the years,” said PSC member Andy Rutnik, who added that “crippling power outages” have continued to wrack St. Thomas-St. John for at least the past week.
“It is an embarrassing thing for WAPA to have to go to the public and ask for income when the services by the public’s measure is terrible,” Rutnik added. PSC members also delved into several specific areas of the authority, from new generation to the completion of WAPA’s advanced metering infrastructure system.
Among other things, WAPA’s interim Director of Project Management, Odari Thomas, said new Wartsila engines are expected to be delivered to the territory in September, with a completion date – meaning, when the units will be operational – set for the end of 2022. In between, the infrastructure needed for the units will be built, along with the installation of switch gear, among other things, before the final commissioning. The new units will be dual-fuel, functioning on both diesel and liquified petroleum gas.
In its generation plan, WAPA is heading in the direction of not having those large units – like Unit 23, which officials said Monday was the cause of Thursday’s 12-hour outage on St. Thomas-St. John – online once these “smaller blocks of power” are completely installed. Officials said Monday that financing for the existing three Wartsila units is being worked on.
PSC members encouraged the authority to abandon its efforts to lease other emergency generation units as it prepares for the Wartsila units to come online which would, in turn, help bring down base rates. Separately, WAPA is behind two to three months on its payments to Aggreko for propane-fired generators on St. Croix that were installed in 2019.
An advanced metering infrastructure – or AMI – is an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers. Giving an update Monday on WAPA’s AMI system, WAPA interim Executive Director Noel Hodge said it has been damaged since the 2017 hurricanes, keeping the authority in recovery mode but after reaching out recently to its supplier, a comprehensive assessment of the system’s needs will soon be underway.
Hodge said that in the last few months, WAPA had two instances where its AMI tower sites went down, forcing crews to “get in there and do some maintenance.”
“Those two sites are back online and receiving readings, so we did have a dip in the percentage of reads from the system – they went down to 79 percent – but from there, we expect the numbers to rise,” Hodge said.
Currently, the authority records utility meter consumption readings in two ways, electronically, through automated metering, or physically, by meter readers. The authority resorts to estimating accounts when the automated system or meter readers cannot secure actual readings and Monday, Hodge said the authority’s goal is to have estimated readings under two percent by May 2022, or one percent every two months, as a way to “keep some milestones in place.”
Hodge also said that at this point, WAPA has “hired a full complement” of temporary meter readers to take physical meter readings. New readers are currently being trained and will be deployed shortly after they finish. A request for proposals has also been issued for a contractor to help with the physical replacement of AMI meters that are not working and need to be changed.
The PSC approved the territory-wide implementation of solid waste tipping fees for the Waste Management Authority. The fees were approved in 2016 for St. Thomas-St. John, but not for St. Croix, and according to WMA Director Roger Merritt, Jr., making sure the same methodology was used across the board would help the authority adhere to its consent decrees and become more self-sufficient. Merritt said the rates would start at $2.50 per cubic yard for fiscal year 2021, and increase gradually up to $7.50 per yard in FY 2025.
The PSC also specified that there be a 60-day period before the implementation of the fees for a public education campaign to explain the structure and impact.
Coming out of executive session, PSC members also denied a request from estranged board member Johan Clendinen for reinstatement to the commission, and continued the chairmanship of David Hughes until December. PSC board member Raymond Williams will serve as vice-chair, replacing Kent Bernier Sr., who retired from the board, until December.